Appreciating Extraverts and IntrovertsDecember 7, 2006
In the years I have spent studying personality traits and how they fit into human interaction, I am most fascinated by Introversion and Extraversion. I believe that a proper understanding of these traits are essential to appreciating those who live with us and around us…and perhaps gaining a foothold on who we ourselves are in terms of other people.
The two terms were coined by the Psychoanalyst Carl Jung. The words mean “to seek or search within” and “to seek and search outside”. There are people who are given to searching and seeking for ‘something’ within themselves and others who seek for ‘something’ outside of themselves. I say ‘something’ because it is never clear what we are searching or seeking. In fact, what we are searching or seeking for may be different for each person. It may be satisfaction, joy, excitement, answers, questions, or energy.
There is an interesting story in the Bible which I have pondered for a long time. A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came to a public meeting where Jesus was healing people. In Jewish law, a woman was not allowed to touch someone when she was bleeding (menstruating or otherwise). We can only assume this woman had gynocological problems that would not stop. Therefore, she could not touch or be touched by anyone during those twelve years. That is an eternity to be cut off from others, especially if you have any extraversion in you. So she comes up behind Jesus and touches the corner of his clothing. Power goes out of him and heals her. He senses that power is leaving his being and asks who touched him. She cringes at that question and tries to hide. Finally she admits it was her and he declares her healed and clean, thus paving the way for her to enter regular societal interactions again.
Her act of touching him secretly is not uncommon for introverts. They desire to attain their needs without touching other people too deeply. Touching other people requires an introvert to exert a lot of energy. We are told in the same story that Jesus knew that power had gone out of him. It is possible for people to draw things from us, especially if they are introverts. In real life, introverts are always watching out for those who would try to do this to them, and they are sometimes guilty of taking energy from others.
What is also interesting is that she immediately feared that she was in trouble when Jesus asked who had touched him. This had much to do with her years of being an outcast, but it also shows us something about introverts and their motivation levels. Hans Eysenck, one of the world’s most famous experts on Personality proposed that Introverts are more motivated by the possibility of punishment and extraverts by the possibility of rewards. The woman who touched his garment came forward because she was convinced that to do otherwise would bring a punishment.
I was speaking with a friend the other day who asked me if there is any such thing as an absolute Introvert or Extravert. That would be impossible to answer of course, because when you think you have identified the absolute standard for either, someone will always come along who is even more extreme. All of us are somewhere between the two extremes. Even though extraverts commonly recharge their emotional energy by being around people, most extraverts will also come to a point where they are “peopled” out. The emotional crash for an overstimulated Extravert can be dramatic. In the same way, introverts can come to a season in life where they are understimulated by being too isolated. They often will develop deep sense of boredom and restlessness and this can lead them into expecting too much of the few people they have allowed into their lives.
Intriguingly, of all the characteristics of personality, this dualism of extravert/introvert tends to change the most as we get older. Younger introverts will often develop a need for people as they get older. In the same way, extraverts will often find themselves developing habits of retreating from the world occasionally as their age increases. If you visit a nursing home, you will find it very difficult to identify some of the introverts and extraverts. I believe that many people over sixty are “X-types” when it comes to this measurement of personality. (Note: An “x” type is defined by Myers-Briggs proponents as a person whose personality is more toward the middle on a personality trait dualism such as Introvert/Extravert).
I remember visiting an elderly client one time who shared a room with an older gentleman. He told me his roommate conplained constantly about how much he missed his family. But once they would come for a one-hour visit, he would immediately nap afterwards and tell his roommate how tired he was. The extravert part of him wanted their company, and the introverted expression of himself was wiped out by the reality of their presence.
Aren’t people funny?